Who Uses Sign Language?

It is not just deaf and hard of hearing children who use sign language. Another large segment of sign language users is hearing nonverbal children who are nonverbal due to conditions such as down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, trauma, and brain disorders or speech disorders. For parents, sign language provides a means of quick communication, particularly for those whose attention spans may be very short or language very limited. Or it may be a tool for language development prior to developing spoken language. For children, it is a means of expressing themselves so that they are less frustrated.

Two young children playing together in a brightly painted room
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Aphasia is a common speech disorder. It is a condition in which stroke or brain injury makes a person unable to speak. Sign language can be a communication aid for people with aphasia. Some resources:


Sign language is frequently used as a communication tool with children with autism. One resource discussing sign language and autism research is "Acquisition of Picture Exchange-Based vs. Signed Mands and Implications to Teach Functional Communication Skills to Children with Autism" in the Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship from December 2016.

Cerebral Palsy

Some hearing children with cerebral palsy may be unable to speak because the cerebral palsy means they cannot control the parts of the body needed in producing speech. Sign language gives them an alternative means of communication.

Down Syndrome

The experiences of parents and children with Down syndrome in using sign language varies. Some parents of children with Down syndrome find that using sign language reduces the incentive for children to speak, ​as signing is easier for them. Others have found that using sign language encourages the development of speech in their children with Down syndrome and that the children drop the signs as they learn to speak. Some resources for using sign language with children who have Downs include:

2 Sources
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  1. Redstone F. Effective SLP Interventions for Children with Cerebral Palsy. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing, Incorporated; 2014.

  2. National Down Syndrome Society. Speech & language therapy.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.